US steps up pressure on Pak to release American diplomat

Rezaul H Laskar

Islamabad, Jan 31 (PTI) Amid a diplomatic row over thearrest of a US diplomat for gunning down two Pakistanis inPunjab''s provincial capital Lahore, Pakistan President AsifAli Zardari today said Washington should wait for the court�sdecision on the American national.

Zardari told a visiting delegation of AmericanCongressmen, who raised the controversial issue with thepresident, that it would be "prudent" to wait for the legalcourse in the country.

The president said he appreciated the concern of theCongressmen "but the matter was already before the courts".

"It would be prudent to wait for the legal course tobe completed," Zardari was quoted as saying in a statementissued by his office here.

Pakistani authorities have rejected a US demand forthe release of Raymond Davis, who was arrested after he shotand killed two youths whom he alleged were trying to rob himin a busy commercial area of Lahore on Thursday.

The Lahore High Court today sought a response fromfederal and provincial authorities to a petition that calledfor steps to ensure that Davis is not handed over to the US.

In the petition filed in the Lahore High Court,lawyer Saeed Zafar claimed efforts were underway to secure therelease of the American and the government should be barredfrom giving him diplomatic immunity.

The American should be barred from leaving Pakistanby including his name in the Exit Control List, Zafar said.

Chief Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, who heard thepetition, issued notices to the federal Attorney General andthe Assistant Advocate General of Punjab province, asking themto appear in court tomorrow and to submit their responses.

The police in Lahore registered a case against Davisfor illegally carrying a weapon. The US national was armedwith a Glock 9mm pistol.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told reportersthis morning that the federal government and the ForeignOffice would decide whether Davis was entitled to diplomaticimmunity.

"The matter is to be decided by the Foreign Officewhile the provincial government is responsible for theinvestigation (into the shooting incident according to the)law of the land," Sharif said.

All decisions regarding the American would be takenin light of the law and the Constitution and no compromisewill be made in the investigation or legal matters, he said.

In a related development, Prime Minister Yousuf RazaGilani�s office denied reports in a section of the media thatthe government had decided to give immunity to Davis and waspressuring authorities to free the American.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister''s Secretariatdescribed the news reports as "incorrect and fabricated".

The spokesperson said the federal government is "notputting any pressure (on authorities) to hand over RaymondDavis to America".

"It is absolutely untrue that the Prime Minister hasexerted any influence for the release of Raymond Davis," thespokesperson said.

The American, currently in police custody, contendedduring a court appearance last week that he had acted inself-defence.

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